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Maple syrup producers see climate change as a threat to industry's future

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Paul Renaud is only too aware of what the power of wind can do to trees.

After violent windstorms recently swept through southern Ontario and Quebec, uprooting trees and leaving a trail of damage across a vast territory, Renaud’s thoughts went right to his sugar maples in Lanark Highlands, Ont., where storms once considered rogue now seem more frequent. 

“We’ve had two in six months,” he said in an interview. “Each one has taken out maple trees.”

Worsening storms aren’t the only changes Renaud sees. As chair of the climate change working group for the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association, he says dramatic weather is having a serious effect on his industry.

Syrup producers are recording declining yields due to increasing global temperatures, which are leading to more invasive pests, sap that is less sugary and shorter harvesting periods than the normal four-to-six-week season.

Longer and more severe droughts kill seedlings and stunt root growth. Unpredictable spring frosts, meanwhile, can shock and destroy new leaf buds, while milder winters with less snow cover leave bare roots exposed. 

“Trees get stressed and then they are more susceptible to pests and pathogens,” said Joshua Rapp, an associate at Harvard University’s school of forestry.

The attacks keep coming. An infestation of tent caterpillars in 2018 left some Ontario producers with 30 per cent less syrup than the year before. The caterpillars eat the leaves, which help make the sugar, leading to less sugary saps.

With earlier and shorter tapping seasons, producers are scrambling to find workers. One third of North American producers said they missed their first sap flow of the season several years in a row, according to a 2019 survey of nearly 400 producers. 

Each year between late February and early May, maple syrup producers rely on the delicate freeze-thaw cycles of spring. When nighttime temperatures drop below zero, the maple tree contracts and sap rushes up from the roots into its branches. When temperatures rise during the day, the tree’s wood expands, putting pressure on the branches and forcing the sap back down the trunk and into the taps.

The sap is boiled until most of the water evaporates, leaving behind the dense, sweet liquid we know as maple syrup. It takes about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup.

By 2100, some U.S. states could see production shift one month earlier — and become nonexistent in some regions like Virginia. “As you go farther north, there’s still a sap season but it moves earlier in the year,” Rapp said in a recent interview.

The effects of changing temperatures are felt unequally. Warmer temperatures could benefit northern parts of Ontario and Quebec, which could see up to 40 litres more sap per tap each year.

“Moving it earlier in time actually makes the season better, because it lengthens the season out,” Rapp said. But he warned that higher temperatures produce less sugary sap, and as a consequence, more sap is needed to make the maple syrup consumers are used to.

Meanwhile, the growth in global demand for the sweet syrup shows no sign of abating. When the balmy 2021 winter and abrupt spring thaw brought low harvests, the industry had to dip deeply into its strategic reserves to meet global demand, which rose by 23 per cent. In response, Quebec Maple Syrup Producers drained nearly half its reserve — 23,000 tonnes worth $150 million.

The industry says keeping up with global syrup demand will require tapping 120 million more trees by 2080. That rise in consumption will add to the carbon levels in the atmosphere due to the wood or other fossil fuels burned to boil the sap.

“Eighty-five to 90 per cent of emissions that a maple syrup producer has relates to the boiling of sap,” Renaud said. 

In their defence, producers contend that tapping more trees protects those trees from being harvested, ensuring that the industry sequesters more carbon than it releases.

Whatever the carbon math, the growing demand for maple syrup and diminished yields are requiring producers to look for ways to mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, thinning of maple stands encourages the growth of larger crowns on the remaining trees, “and that’s going to help them be healthier and produce more sap and sugar,” Rapp said.

But, he acknowledges that to save the industry, “the biggest thing is addressing climate change.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2022.

— Meghan McGee is a nutrition scientist in Toronto and a fellow in the Certificate in Health Information program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

Meghan McGee, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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Alberta

‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

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